Wendel Clark's tries again, reopening in Lister Block Thursday

After months with the doors closed and the lights off, Wendel Clark’s grill and bar is reopening inside Hamilton’s iconic Lister Block tomorrow afternoon.

While the local food scene is booming, restaurants in the city-owned space have struggled

The Wendel Clark's restaurant in the Lister Block is set to reopen on Thursday. (Adam Carter/CBC)

After months with the doors closed and the lights off, Wendel Clark's grill and bar is reopening inside Hamilton's iconic Lister Block tomorrow afternoon.

It's the third opening in three years for one of the most visible spots in the city owned building, which has already housed a short lived, disastrous steakhouse, and a previous iteration of Clark's restaurant, which closed just before Christmas in 2016.

At the time, the city said the then-franchise owners were behind on rent. The group that franchises the chain has since taken it over and renovated, and will run it as a corporate location, says Delfina Duarte, the city's manager of facility planning and business support.

"I think that with these changes and new management, that this could be a success," she said.

The previous franchise owners, Louis and Karen Muscat, told CBC News that they weren't properly supported by the Wendel Clark's franchise or the city.

We lost everything in our lives. We're financially ruined.- Louis Muscat, former Wendel Clark's franchise owner

Muscat says he and his wife spent $485,000 to renovate the space when they first took over, and have since had to sell their home to cover debts, after investing money set aside for their retirement.

"We lost everything in our lives," he said. "We're financially ruined. I sold my Corvette to make payroll, and that Corvette meant a lot to me."

"We came to Hamilton for an investment in the city. We met every deadline the city wanted."

Dynamic Hospitality and Entertainment Group, which franchises the chain, did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Operation was a 'risk' for 1st time owners, city says

Duarte said that the Muscats were the only people who applied for the space through the city's RFP process, noting that they were first-time restaurant owners.

"That was a risk," she said. "It's tougher to get off the ground when you're new to the business."

In social media posts, Wendel Clark's has said that Clark himself will be onhand Thursday at the reopening of the Hamilton location. (James Hopkin/CBC)

While two businesses have now floundered in that city-owned space, Hamilton's restaurant community is booming, just steps away. Several restaurants have opened up on James Street North and King William, like The French, Berkeley North, Nique, most recently, Merit Brewing.

Yet in a space that the city owns, nothing has worked. First there was 28 Lister Chophouse Grill, which the city had to seize after the operator stopped paying his bills.

It was plagued by complaints from contractors and staff who claimed they were never paid, as well as grumbling about the quality of the food and prices from the general public.

City invested thousands in space

Wendel Clark's had less overt problems, but Muscat told CBC News that there were times when only two to three customers would be in the restaurant for lunch service.

The city originally invested $267,000 in the ground floor space, back before the steakhouse opened.

The Lister Block is one of Hamilton's most iconic locations. (John Rieti/CBC)

Duarte said the city did pay for part of the renovations in the building this time — namely, cutting out portions of a wall so that the bathrooms in the building actually connect with the restaurant.

She says this was "in the city's best interest," as it would cut down on security guard costs for the rest of the building. Duarte could not say exactly how much the renovation cost.

Wendel Clark's reopens on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. The restaurant says that the former Maple Leafs captain will be there for the event.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.